SOCIAL STUDIES“This is your history,” said the teacher of it.
And it was. So, now, is she,
passing around her portrait of a Cree
Indian in a top hat. Any child could see
how meticulously bad that drawing was:
a face like a heraldic shield,
with stuck-on eyes and cheeks of pencil fuzz;
a mouth of line, and, dangling beneath,
a canted Celtic alphabet of teeth.
In hands like dinner forks it seemed to hold
a strip of parchment, sumptuously scrolled;
and this, Miss Ward revealed to us, revealed,
in Bible Gothic, signed with an x and sealed,
how Indians had given up the deeds
to our dominion, in return for beads.Beside the blackboard, maps were tacked
which showed the world cut up like orange rind,
sliced and sectioned, air-brushed, dotted lined
and crammed with calculations to distract
each young, impressionable mind
from the corrupt, the riotously inexact
contours of unornamented fact.
For there on the grid, like a spilled drink:
the land of Canada, vast and milkshake pink,
pocked with lakes spattered with islands that had lakes,
a pattern of mistakes within mistakes,
profusely annotated with the names of towns,
Manigotagan, Flin Flon, Churchill Downs,
stuck like mayflies in a web of red
roads and rails, unravelling like thread
among the moraines and glacier melts,
dust bowls, tree lines, lichen belts,
along the flumes and gravel beds
where European traders packed their pelts
across our atlas, laying traps
to capture beavers when there were no maps.Our history, I’ll be honest, is at most
a theory which the facts do not confute.
Some people came from somewhere to a coast
as ragged as the salt line on a boot,
and pitched their cabins in the wilderness,
and did the things that somehow led to this.The country I live in is a patch of thorns
below a culvert in a sunken plot
where burly geese with necks like flugelhorns
intimidate the pigeons and are shot
by a district sales manager named Russ.
And that’s it. Our lives, our landscape, us.
But near the train yard, where I catch my bus,
a late October frost has clenched the ground,
the football field is hard as frozen meat,
enormous gulls are swaggering around
with snowflakes on their orange rubber feet.
They cruise through stubble with their beaks ajar
shrieking that what they are they are they are.